Book Cover

Pitfalls of Prestige

Black Women and Literary Recognition

Laura Elizabeth Vrana

229 pp. 6 x 9
EXPECTED Pub Date: November, 2024

Subjects: Literary Studies, American
Black Studies
Race & Ethnic Studies

Preorder Hardcover $59.95 ISBN: 978-0-8142-1575-3

“Few scholars have so convincingly dissected the logic and the priorities by which awards-granting institutions distribute prestige, and none has done so while also providing the incisive close readings of complex, challenging poetry that Vrana has here. Pitfalls of Prestige is an impressive achievement.” —Keith D. Leonard, author of Fettered Genius: The African American Bardic Poet from Slavery to Civil Rights

“Vrana documents the poetic lineages that Black women construct as they navigate the politics of the contemporary poetry landscape, and pressures the false binary between ‘formalist’ and ‘experimental’ verse. Pitfalls of Prestige is a compelling read that will significantly enhance scholarly understandings of contemporary Black women’s poetry.” —Emily Ruth Rutter, author of The Blues Muse: Race, Gender, and Musical Celebrity in American Poetry

From 1987, when Rita Dove won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, to 2021, when Amanda Gorman skyrocketed to celebrity status after performing during Biden’s inauguration and the Super Bowl, Black women have seemingly attained secure, stable positions at the forefront of American poetry. But this prominence comes at a price. As figures like Dove and Elizabeth Alexander have become well known, receiving endorsements and gaining visible platforms from major prizes, academic institutions, and publishing houses, the underlying terms of evaluation that greet Black women’s poetics often remain superficial, reflecting efforts to co-opt and contain rather than meaningfully consider new voices and styles. In Pitfalls of Prestige, Laura Elizabeth Vrana surveys how developments in American literary institutions since 1980 have shaped—and been shaped by—Black women poets. Grappling with the refulgent works of the most acclaimed contemporary figures alongside lesser-known poets, Vrana both elucidates how seeming gestures of inclusion can actually result in constraining Black women poets’ works and also celebrates how these writers draw on a rich lineage and forge alternative communities to craft continually innovative modes of transgressing such limits, on the page and in life.

Laura Elizabeth Vrana is Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies at the University of South Alabama. She coedited The Collected Poems of Lorenzo Thomas and has published on contemporary Black poetics, including in anthologies such as Some Other Blues: New Perspectives on Amiri Baraka and Revisiting the Elegy in the Black Lives Matter Era. She is the author of Pitfalls of Prestige: Black Women and Literary Recognition.


Introduction Remembering the (Re)generations of Black Women’s Poetics

Part 1 The Institutions of Prestige
Chapter 1 The Color of Prestige
Chapter 2 Navigating the Ivory Tower


Part 2 Performance, Poetics, and Publication
Chapter 3 Text, Performance, and Embodiment
Chapter 4 Experiments in Lyric
Chapter 5 Historical Experiments in Representing Slavery

Coda Graywolf and the “Post”(-Citizen) Era?

Works Cited

Related Titles:

Book Cover

Some Other Bluesa

New Perspectives on Amiri Barak

Edited by Jean-Philippe Marcoux

Book Cover

Dark Mirror

African Americans and the Federal Writers’ Project

J. J. Butts

Book Cover

Against Marginalization

Convergences in Black and Latinx Literatures

Jose O. Fernandez